Ranking every Canadian Heritage Minute: #60-41

In our first instalment of this gargantuan exercise, we took a broad survey of all the forgotten Heritage Minutes that don’t look like Heritage Minutes, don’t celebrate something quintessentially Canadian to celebrate, or some combination thereof.

Today…well, there’s still a lot of those to get through. But! If these 19 were technically better, they were also a bit disappointing. Something was holding them back—whether it be an overly regional focus, the limitations of wartime-based Minutes, or just a lack of fancy beards.

So strap in. It’s time to be proud of freeing slaves, having lots of fish, and moving houses while playing hockey on the very same day.

(A reminder of the scoring system: Each Minute is ranked out of 10 on the Heritage Factor—silly facial hair, contrived conversations, abrupt transitions, “Burnt Toast Moments”, and everything else unique about the medium’s form—and out of 10 on the Canadian Factor—which is to say, whether the thing it’s discussing/celebrating is something that only Canadians would be really proud of)

#60: Emily Carr (10.1 points)

The plot: Emily Carr visits Haida Gwaii. She sees a bunch of totem poles. She gets inspired and starts painting. Then she starts saying artsy, naturey stuff.

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We are then told Emily Carr was awesome. The end.

Heritage Factor: 4.1. What’s with giving the artists the artistic Minutes? Couldn’t we have a bunch of men telling Carr not to go to Haida Gwaii, her telling them to go fly a kite, and then everyone being impressed by her paintings? Instead we get discordant music and shaky cams and monologues. The Canadian nature scenes are familiar, but that’s pretty much it.

Canadian Factor: 6. DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAS FIRST NATIONS ART AND WEST COAST NATURE AND FAMOUS PAINTERS WHO INCORPORATE BOTH?!? They cram a whole lot of distinctive West Coast stuff in here, which is good. You know why it’s probably all crammed in there? This is the only Heritage Minute with an explicitly B.C. setting.

I would do a fancy chart showing the amount of segments devoted to historic things in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and B.C., but it would just make me angry and start ranting about Ontario hegemony and Leafs highlights always topping Sportscentre. The point is, I share the same hometown as Emily Carr, she’s awesome, and I’m giving her more Canadian Factor points than she probably deserves.

#59: Joseph-Armand Bombardier (10.2 points)

The plot: Young Joseph Bombardier is a nerd, preferring to tinker with tools instead of playing baseball. Then one day he builds a toy train.

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Impressive, right? Then one day he learns to build everything else. Wait, what?

The takeaway: Don’t play baseball.

Heritage Factor: 4.7. It’s not so much “bad” as “uninspired”, with nothing really interesting/crazy/contrived in the childhood scenes to make the payoff dramatic/important/delightful.

Canadian Factor: 5.5 DID YOU KNOW WE HAVE BOMBARDIER?!?

#58: Juno Beach (10.2 points)

The plot: So it’s the night of D-Day, and Canadian troops are cracking wise on Juno Beach, but not this one kid. He wants to play his trumpet.

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He’s pretty good at the trumpet! Then bombs go off. He stops playing. People want him to keep playing. He does, but they have to move on. We then learn the trumpeter is “Mr. Toronto”, Johnny Lombardi. “Oh, that’s HIM! Neat!” says nobody out of Ontario.

The takeaway: Famous people were also in the war.

Heritage Factor: 6.8. There’s a lot to like here, especially the fact that people aren’t too fazed by the bombs. On Normandy. The night of D-Day. Because trumpet. It’s sort of like the “Drink With Me” scene in Les Mis where you just go with it.

Canadian Factor: 3.4. DID YOU KNOW CANADA WAS ALSO AT D-DAY AND SOMEONE THERE BECAME A BROADCASTER OF REGIONAL IMPORTANCE?!? There’s two things here. One is the Heritage Minute trying to cram two stories together, which is never advisable, especially when DID YOU KNOW CANADA WAS A PART OF D-DAY TOO?!? would work perfectly well. Mostly because I wish we had Heritage Minute Dwight Eisenhower or FDR saying how awesome Canada is.

But the other point is having a heritage minute about a Mr. Toronto is…well, I just ranted about it. Let’s move on.

#57: Governor Frontenac (10.3 points)

The plot: It’s the siege of Quebec, and an English general is in town. Someone taunts him like the English pig-dog he is. Then, there’s a swordfight out of nowhere!

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Frontenac appears, who we understand is a big deal. English guy is all “Frontenac, will you surrender?” and Frontenac is all “I will reply from the mouth of my cannon”…and then English guy leaves, and we learn he never returns.

Also, the narrator is Peter Gzowski.

The takeaway: In olden days, swordfights could break out at any moment.

Heritage Factor: 6.1. There’s an insane swordfight, great hats, a celebrity cameo – and yet, it suffers because we don’t really know what’s going on. Why is the siege happening? What are the English doing there? Why did Frontenac wait before entering the picture? Were they in a position of strength? Of weakness? The best Minutes for both hokey hilarity and educational value can be easily followed…and that’s hard to do here.

Canadian Factor: 4.2. DID YOU KNOW THAT WE BEAT THE AMERICANS IN SOMETHING BEFORE THE WAR OF 1812?!? It’s true! At least according to Peter Gzowski. “The Americans pressed the attack, but Frontenac beat them off,” he says. But weren’t they more “British” than “Americans” in 1690? What game are you playing, Gzowski?

#56: La Bolduc (10.4 points)

The plot: A confident lady enters a recording studio to record a song. A Powerful White Man Is Skeptical.

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La Bolduc presses ahead. The Powerful White Man Is Still Skeptical, but she’s saved by Humble Anonymous Employee.

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Powerful White Man Is Still Skeptical, but La Bolduc puts her money where her mouth is. Literally.

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Humble Anonymous Employee reminds Powerful White Man (but really the audience) that $20 “is a working man’s salary for a month”.

He relents. La Bolduc starts to sing. Instantaneously, her recording is heard all throughout Quebec. Random people smile.

The takeaway: Men will try and stop women from singing, or doing anything for that matter.

Heritage Factor: 8.2. There’s so much to love here. I have no idea if that scene was 1% or 100% made up, but it great Heritage touches, and managed to develop three separate characters in just 40 seconds. About the only way it could get more delightful is if the Powerful White Man said something blatantly sexist, and it didn’t coast for the final 20 seconds.

Canadian Factor: 2.2. DID YOU KNOW QUEBEC HAD A REALLY GOOD FOLK SINGER?!? By nature, the regional-based Heritage Minutes will always suffer next to the national ones, because it’s harder for people to connect with the prairie immigrant experience or the French chanson if they don’t live there.

#55: Hart & Papienau (10.6 points)

The plot: There’s this guy named Hart who looks like he’s going to become a Quebec politician of some sort. But a Powerful White Christian Man is skeptical, noting he didn’t swear on the bible. He’s Jewish and everyone agrees to kick him out—but one politician in the back of the room looks conflicted.

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There’s shadows and everything so you KNOW it’s real. Anyway, Hart sees him afterwards, and is super passive-aggressive.

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Papineau is stung by this. 25 years later, he declares that Jews are real people too – “giving them full rights of citizenship, 25 years before the same rights were granted anywhere else in the British Empire”. Hart is now an old, grumpy man.

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The takeaway: Discrimination exists.

Heritage Factor: 5. It’s one of those that hits the general beats of a Heritage Minute in all 4 scenes, which is trickier than it sounds. And there’s a surplus of fancy hats and old-timey hair. But there’s not a lot of spark after Hart talks to Papineau – Jewish people get full rights, but there’s no real motivation/craziness behind any of it.

Canadian Factor: 5.6. DID YOU KNOW THAT QUEBEC WAS CRUEL TO JEWISH PEOPLE, BUT ALSO NICER TO THEM THAN MANY OTHERS?!? Look, we discriminated against an entire religion for a long time, but we were comparatively decent to them, eh?

#54: Frontier College (10.8 points)

The plot: We start with peak Canadiana.

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One of the loggers tries to figure out how much money he’s making, but he can’t on account of being stupid. Later that night, a nerd is helping everyone with their homework (You can tell he’s a nerd because he wears glasses). The workers compare him to Norman Bethume, except more patronizing and laugh at him. Ribbing occurs. There’s one guy with an awesome moustache.

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But the narrator tells us the nerd is a volunteer teacher—and plenty of people like him helped in work camps across the country, which became Frontier College. Yeah nerds!

The takeaway: White and blue-collar workers have learned from one together since time immemorial.

Heritage Factor: 5.6. It’s not really a traditional Minute—all black-and-white, no big reveal—but it’s actually pretty effective in presenting a slice of life and putting across a few simple points. It’s good character work from about 4 or 5 different people…and while none of it is mockable, if you were 10 and this popped up on TV in 1995, it would probably stick with you.

Canadian Factor: 5.2 DID YOU KNOW THAT CANADIANS HAD WORKER CAMPS?!? No wow factor here, but this is one of the many Minutes that present Canadians as Selfless Helpers. Add in loggers with some weird accents, and that gets you a passing grade.

#53: Emily Murphy (10.9 points)

The plot: Lights go up and a lady is staring out the window. Then she turns to the camera and starts talking, as though we’ve been talking for a while.

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It’s Emily Murphy. We know this because she says “I, Emily Murphy” at one point. Murphy describes The Persons case in great detail, and then the Minute ends. No narrator, no extra people. No extra scenes. Just a great big monologue.

The takeaway: The Persons Case was a thing that happened.

Heritage Factor: 5.2. It’s certainly one of the weirder Minutes (one of the three that is essentially a monologue), but even within that limited frame it’s quite memorable. Part of it lies with the script that needs to function as both a dramatic monologue and an educational summarization of an important legal case. But part of it lies with Kate Nelligan, playing Emily Murphy, acting the hell out of the role. There’s a reason she got nominated for an Academy Award and BAFTA in the same year for different movies—she plays determined yet calm outrage incredibly well.

Canadian Factor: 5.7. DID YOU KNOW CANADIAN WOMEN GAINED FULL STATUS THROUGH REALLY STRANGE CONSTITUTIONAL LANGUAGE AND A CONVOLUTED LEGISLATIVE PROCESS?!? The Persons Case is a delightful bit of Canadiana because virtually every country had an arduous process to give women their full rights—but ours involved some arcane language and constitutional/colonial hijinks.

Also, can you imagine if the Persons Case played out today? The memes? The hashtags? The outrage?

Please don’t actually start thinking how Canada’s historic moments would have played out on Twitter.

#52: John Cabot (11.2 points)

The plot: There’s a ship off Newfoundland. Of course, this is the first time a European ship has been off Newfoundland for 500 years, so it’s not Newfoundland yet.

Anyways, John Cabot is on the boat. He’s awoken in the middle of the night, which makes him grumpy. But the reason is pretty important: There’s a ton of fish!

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Later, he’s talking with Henry VII, and he gets really intense about these fish.

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And that’s it.

The takeaway: Once, Newfoundland had lots of fish. Once.

Heritage Factor: 6.1. We’ve got some funny hats and accents, and a passable burnt toast moment (Look at these fish!). And the ending is the sort of grade-A, faux-dramatic shot that makes the enterprise seem well done, until you start to think about it too much.

Canadian Factor: 5.1. DID YOU KNOW ABOUT CANADA’S RICH FISHING HISTORY?!? Because Canada wasn’t a thing yet, and Cabot’s mission at the time was sort of a failure, it’s hard to create too much edutainment from his discovery.

#51: Dextraze in the Congo (11.3 points)

The plot: There’s a Civil War in the Congo. Some rebel leader is holding people hostage and wants to kill them. Civil Wars can have messy morals, but we know he’s The Bad Guy because he slaps a religious person.

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There’s a lot of gunfire and his men go out to deal with it. He continues to scream at the hostages. Then he hears a gun being readied.

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It’s a peacekeeper! The peacekeeper says “Drop your weapon” several times with authority. The man who was slapped asks who he is. THE Peacekeeper says “I’m Jacques Dextraze…and I’m Canadian.”

Wait, he doesn’t? He just says he’s with the United Nations? Bah.

The takeaway: Canada doesn’t just have peacekeepers—we have badass peacekeepers.

Heritage Factor: 4.8. It’s just one scene, mostly involving a lot of gunfire, but there’s enough good lines and stilted morality to make this work somewhat.

Canadian Factor: 6.5 DID YOU KNOW THAT CANADA HAD PEACEKEEPERS?!? There’s been about 43 different thinkpieces on the decline of peacekeeping as part of our identity and foreign policy, but it’s still definitely a thing. Even if it’s weird we don’t have a Lester Pearson Suez Minute.

#50: Baldwin & Lafontaine (11.4 points)

The plot: It’s 1841 and election day in Quebec. People supporting Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine are blocked from voting and a scuffle breaks out.

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But Lafontaine, a reformer, says Violence Must Be Resisted. Back in his home, he gets a letter from Ontario politician Robert Baldwin, who wants him to run in Ontario. We know this because he tells his secretary “It’s from Robert Baldwin. He wants me to run in Ontario” and then we cut to Toronto, where Lafontaine says “You’re offering me a seat here in Toronto.”

Baldwin says they’ll make history. The narrator says they did make history. And the scene ends.

The takeaway: Canadian politics in the 1840s was hella confusing.

Heritage Factor: 5.2. Opening scene with violence, lots of exposition in the middle, a tidy wrapup from the narrator…all good stuff, but it just doesn’t have much spark, mostly because the mid-19th century was filled with endless rebellions, riots, skirmishes, political negotiations, mergers, and hand-wringing that slowly led to the Confederation Era of history, without as many of the singular moments.

Canadian Factor: 6.2. DID YOU KNOW THAT CANADA CAME TOGETHER THROUGH COMPROMISE AND REJECTING VIOLENCE?!? Not like America some countries, am I right?

#49: Inukshuk (11.4 points)

The plot: Baffin Island. Some schmuck with a bum foot sees a group of First Nations and looks confused.

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They’re building an Inukshuk, he says. Or rather, he thinks it—all of his lines are presented in the form of internal monologue, for some reason. But yep, it’s an Inukshuk.

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Schmuck is still looking confused.

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Seriously, this screencap is from a different cut than the first one.

He decides that he’s going to find out what why they built it.

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Then the line is said again, with a weird omnipresent echo. AND THAT’S WHY WE HAVE INUKSHUKS.

The takeaway: Inukshuks are more than an Olympic marketing tool.

Heritage Factor: 6.4. Anytime you have A Meeting With First Nations Filled With Wisdom, you’re going to get high marks. Add in the repeat of the final line, and it makes up for the naturalistic, beautiful cinematography, which frankly, has no place in a Heritage Minute.

Canadian Factor: 5 DID YOU KNOW WHERE INUKSHUKS CAME FROM?!?

#48: Mona Parsons (11.7 points)

The plot: There’s a women talking to a man in a war zone. We great some great exposition.

Parsons

Yep. We get a flashback, where we find Mona Parsons had moved to Holland and was eventually sentenced to death for helping the resistance. But she was calm in front of the Nazi judge, so it was downgraded to life in prison. But she escaped after four years and made her way to a Canadian unit. The narrator tells us years later, she would marry the guy in the first scene that recognized her.

To which I say: Not only does that not really matter, it’s not even true. They briefly met when she was in a hospital, not out of nowhere in the field. BUT FINE HERITAGE MINUTE. CONCOCT YOUR NARRATIVE.

The takeaway: Resisting the Nazis for years is important, but so are the imaginary ways you meet your future husband.

Heritage Factor: 6.5. Introductory scene with stilted dialogue? Check. Time shift to the important stuff? Check. Wrap-up narration that introduces almost as many questions as answers? Check.

Canadian Factor: 5.4. DID YOU KNOW CANADIANS ALSO ESCAPED FROM THE NAZIS?!?

#47: Valour Road (11.8 points)

The plot: It’s the First World War in the trenches. A lot is going on.

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Amongst the endless violence and mayhem, the narrator gives us a bit of trivia.

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Sergeant-Major Frederick William Hall, Lieutenant Robert Shankland and Corporal Leo Clarke all lived on the same arterial street in Winnipeg (Pine Street), and all three won the Victoria Cross for various acts of bravery, which you read about snark-free here. After the war, that street was renamed Valour Road.

You’ll notice I didn’t try to explain the plot too much. That’s because there isn’t one—the scenes just show little vignettes of bravery from each of the men, while the narrator fills us in. But I’m typing this on Remembrance Day, and this is the second straight war-related Minute I’m grousing about, so I’ll just stop now to prevent further bad karma.

The takeaway: Wars are filled with amazing coincidences.

Heritage Factor: 6.8. We’ve got some good Canadian war shots, a narrator injecting some random trivia, proud soldiers embracing. There are 12 Heritage Minutes devoted to WW1/WW2/1812 and they’ve got a pretty good handle on how to inject the suitable amount of pathos.

Canadian Factor: 5. DID YOU KNOW 3 OF CANADA’S WAR HEROES ALL LIVED ON THE SAME STREET?!? There’s no record that they knew each other before the war, they didn’t fight in the same battles during the war, and only one survived after the war. They’re joined by geography and…FINE REMEMBRANCE DAY, I’LL BE NICE.

#46: Joseph Tyrrell (12.2 points)

The plot: It’s 19th century Alberta. Time for some dramatic vistas.

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Joseph Tyrrell is hunting around, looking for…something. He never talks, so we’re not exactly sure what. Wait, what’s that?

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It’s dinosaurs!

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The takeaway: You can find dinosaurs if have a hunch and start digging.

Heritage Factor: 4.7. There is no speaking by anyone except the narrator, making this all about atmosphere. AND DINOSAURS. But seriously, it feels more like a nature doc than a Heritage Minute until those last five seconds…but those are a perfect last five seconds.

Canadian Factor: 7.5 DID YOU KNOW CANADA HAS LOTS OF DINOSAURS?!? I love how proud we are about this fact. Millions of years ago, when the continents were in entirely different places, a bunch of animals died here. Then we found them. Part. Of. Our. Heritage.

#45: J.S. Woodsworth (12.3 points)

The plot: It’s 1926, and an old lady is eavesdropping on a political conversation between PM Mackenzie King and Labour leader J.S. Woodsworth. It’s about old age pensions, and J.S. is INTENSE.

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He’s so intense, Mackenzie King is about to cry.

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King stammers for a bit, and decides to cut a deal. The old lady is happy.

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And that’s why we have old age pensions.

The takeaway: J.S. Woodsworth was the man.

Heritage Factor: 7.9. The first star of this scene isn’t Woodsworth. It clearly isn’t King. It’s not even the random Ottawa Citizen journalist who tells King to suck it up (although he’s pretty great). The real star is the old lady. Who is she? What’s she doing snooping around? If she has access to the Prime Minister, shouldn’t she be taken care of?

Canadian Factor: 4.5. DID YOU KNOW THAT CANADA CARES FOR THE OLD?!? Look, just because it’s an important policy doesn’t mean it’s a policy you *have* to do a Heritage Minute on.

#44: Maurice “Rocket” Richard (12.3 points)

The plot: Some fella is moving with his family. He spends a lot of time getting a couch up the stairs. Seriously, this is a big plot point.

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He moved from one side of the city to the other and was promised the day off. But turns out, the boss needs him to show up to work.

But this isn’t any person. This is Rocket Richard, NHL superstar and owner of Canada’s craziest eyes.

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Richard scores an NHL-record eight points. Years later, his suspension sparks a famous riot that’s much more culturally important than The Time He Moved and Then Had a Good Game…but nope, we’ll go with moving a couch and scoring some goals instead.

The takeaway: Don’t make the Rocket angry. You wouldn’t want to make the Rocket angry.

Heritage Factor: 4.6. It’s just such an odd choice for one of only two hockey heritage moment made before this year. Not the origins of the game, not a memorable championship, not a one-minute recreation of The Hockey Sweater…but the time Rocket Richard moved homes and then scored eight points? It’s hard to wring too much drama there. That being said…

Canadian Factor: 7.7, DID YOU KNOW ONE OF CANADA’S BEST HOCKEY PLAYERS HAD A GREAT GAME AFTER HE MOVED ACROSS TOWN?!? I am sure this was a big deal in Quebec at the time, and it amuses me to no end. And one day, if all is just, we’ll get a Heritage Minute on the Gretzky trade (instead of the 271st retrospective feature), and it will immediately be in the top 5 on this list.

#43: Peacemaker (12.3 points)

The plot: A wise Iroquois man tells a young girl the legend of the Tree of Great Peace. Flashback time!

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There was some sort of conference around a blue vortex of doom. Some Chief said that war was bad and peace was good. Standard stuff, so far. They threw some branches into the pit. And then we got some delicious 90’s CGI.

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Reboot-quality stuff, right there. The Iroquois man said “the power of the great peace drove the evil from them.” I’m willing to accept that.

The takeaway: Early 90s CGI never helps anything.

Heritage Factor: 7.2, Obviously this gets high marks, even if not incredibly exciting from a narrative standpoint.

Canadian Factor: 5.1. DID YOU KNOW THAT FIRST NATIONS HAVE STORIES TOO?!? If you’re counting at home, so far the only Heritage Minutes involving First Nations have been about Maple Syrup, a tree legend, the Inukshuk, and a war hero who led a tragic life. I’m sure we’ll get to smallpox, crooked treaties and residential schools eventually!*

*We will never get to those things

#42: Paris Crew (12.4 points)

The plot: It’s Paris in 1867. Canada’s only a few days old, and we’ve somehow entered a rowing competition as the underdogs.

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Can you guess what happens?

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They win! Yay Canada!

The takeaway: Rowing brought our nation together…maybe. The point is, we beat real countries at something!

Heritage Factor: 4.9. There’s not a whole lot going on here. It’s just a race, and there’s only so much you can do to gussy it up with Heritage Minute flourishes like moustaches and period costumes.

Canadian Factor: 7.5 DID YOU KNOW CANADA WON A BIG ROWING RACE RIGHT AFTER CONFEDERATION?!? So much of Canadian History between 1867 to the 1982 patriation of the constitution is presented as “For the first time, Canada did a certain thing, and it Brought Us Closer Together,” and damned if the Paris Crew isn’t a perfect example of that.

#41: Underground Railroad (12.4 points)

The plot: A woman named Eliza has made it through the Underground Railroad, and is now waiting for her father. She’s pretty stressed.

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Canadian lady tries comforting her, but she’s still stressed.

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Eventually, she bolts. Canadian lady runs after her. There’s “dramatic”, and likely royalty-free, music. Then they see a wagon. They run back to the house. Guess who appears?

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“We’re free!” the dad says. “Yes pa!” says Eliza, “We’re in Canada!”

And THAT is how you write the ending to a Heritage Minute.

The takeaway: Canada helped the slaves.

Heritage Factor: 5.7. It’s a tremendously effective vignette emotionally, but there are a few reasons it’s at #41. First, the middle when the Canadian lady is just running after the freed slave lags – Heritage Minutes don’t, as a rule, do frantic action well. Second, you don’t actually learn what the Underground Railroad is. Poll results back this up—in an Ipsos-Reid survey, Canadians listed it as their 7th favourite Minute, but when asked how much they learned, it didn’t crack the top 12.

Canadian Factor: 6.7 DID YOU KNOW THAT CANADIANS HELPED TO FREE SLAVES?!? This is one of those things we’re all taught in High School as proof that Canada is Nice, but this rating isn’t as high as it could be, because it the Minute doesn’t really focus on why we did it.

PART 3: #40-26

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